There has been a great deal of worry in the U.S. about the state of literacy and education of the young. The great schools with the highest standards still attract and educate. Many other schools spoon-feed vocational courses into lethargic kids. However, new studies that suggest teenagers in Britain and the United States do not know how to use condoms are disconcerting.
An interesting Fox News article written in 2002 by Glenn Harlan Reynolds, "Teen Sex and Media Hype," makes a good point about the infantilization of teens in our society. He wrote of teens coddled to the point where they had neither to accept responsibilities nor to act in constructive paths. Perhaps, he mused, if they were, they would behave in the role of citizens and be less like the traditionally irresponsible leisure classes "… with all the vices that have historically attended leisure classes."
He also noted that treating them as infants in growing and sexual bodies keeps them from developing the "base of judgment and self-respect" that allows for appropriate decision-making. Appropriate decisions imply deciding when they are ready for sex (always a difficult choice given the flooded hormonal circuits of the adolescent) and learning about and taking responsible precautions.
The forces against science and knowledge and even a group who are opposed to education about sex (hard to imagine, isn't it?) continue to dominate school boards or try to. More than a few times they have managed to ban books and work their censorship incantations over library choices.
It is not a slight lessening of intellectual interest in young people that is the problem. This week's report from the U.K. proves that the world faces a real problem of dumbness (or is it numb-ness?).
USA Today published the article "Report: Teenagers Often Shun Condoms" early in the month. It reported on a study appearing from Child Trends, a not-for-profit agency in Washington, D.C. that those teens who are sexually active do not use condoms regularly. This activity puts them in danger of acquiring STDs, passing them on to their partners, and creating pregnancies.
Almost fifty percent of the male teens who were sexually active during the year before the survey said they regularly employed a condom. Only 28% of the girls reported that one had been used.
Their good news was that
[e]fforts to promote contraceptive use may be having an effect. The teen birth rate has been declining: in 2004 it was 41.2 births per 1,000 girls ages 15-19, down from a peak of 61.8 births per 1,000 in 1991, says Child Trends' Kerry Franzetta, lead author of the report.
MedicineNet reported on a study of 1373 British teenagers done by London's National Children's Bureau. Get ready — the title of the article was "Many Teens Use Condoms Incorrectly". This is a hard one to believe, but read it I did. We know teens have sex (I did and it was fun). We know those who have sex should use condoms to protect against STDs and unwanted pregnancies. How could anyone have guessed they couldn't figure out what to do with a rubber cylinder and a – dare I write it – penis? How many teenagers does it take to stick it on before the fun begins and take it off after it's over? Quite a few, it seems.
In the London study (published in The Journal of Sexually Transmitted Infections) the 1373 were interviewed and, where possible, their diaries were examined. About half reported that they had had vaginal intercourse and two-thirds of those said they used a condom the last time they had sex.
Does that mean they are protected against sexually transmitted diseases? Not necessarily. Hatherall and colleagues found that 6% of the kids (who had reported that they used a condom the last time they had sex) said they put the condom on after vaginal penetration — and 6% said they continued vaginal penetration after condom removal.
An interesting and worthwhile website is Cool Nurse. In a section on sexuality, the authors say that "Despite our collective wish that teenagers postpone sexual activity until adulthood, the reality is that more than half of them will not wait." This is hardly a new phenomenon in the growth process. This is not an American problem even though "…we do have the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of adolescent pregnancies among the world’s industrial countries." The most important distinction between the U.S. and the other "advanced" countries (where teens are at least as sexually active as are ours) is that the U.S. has failed in the provision of information and access these adolescents need to protect themselves in the battle against STDs (including AIDS) and unwanted pregnancies.
As a result, teenagers rarely use any form of contraception during their first episode of sexual activity and it usually takes about a year before they use any effective birth control method. It is not surprising, therefore, that most teenage pregnancies occur within the first six months after teens begin to have intercourse. Currently, about one million teens become pregnant each year in the United States.
There is room to worry when the arts are ignored and the sciences shunned. Playing video games instead of reading Dickens is sad. Not being attracted to books, libraries, serious film, creative acts and burning with the desire to learn all there is to know is depressing.
However, consider the intellectual gap that includes not knowing how to use a condom. This is a dangerous place to park your dunce cap. I don't have a teenager and I am too old to start one now. But obviously there is something missing in communication at home, in school, and in the media. You can tell them "Don't" but they have to have ready access to information, and the ability and desire to learn in order to know how to protect themselves.Powered by Sidelines